Chances are, you haven't worn most of the clothes in your closet for months. And you won't for a while, even after baby has arrived. You've accepted this fact; your body is miraculously and beautifully growing another human, after all.
For those interested in maintaining their style throughout pregnancy, there are downright gorgeous maternity clothes available at all price points today. Late into pregnancy, usually comfort wins out over fashion. You may wear the same maternity pants day after day because nothing else fits just right. There is no right or wrong in what to wear during pregnancy.
Yet, many mothers-to-be agonize over one fashion choice: what to wear during labor?
I hear this question posed often. I get it-- when I was preparing to give birth to my first born almost eleven years ago, I wondered the same thing. I wanted to wear something functional, (and not knowing what birth would look like, what constituted functional wasn't clear), I wanted the option to cover private areas I normally didn't show to the public, I wanted to be comfortable, and of course, I wanted to look nice.
Consider these factors when choosing your laboring outfit(s):
Stage/Phase of Labor
Let's get one fact out of the way up front: When you are pushing out your baby, you won't be wearing anything from the waist down, except maybe socks. So be prepared to be naked at showtime.
Below-the-waist (or total) nakedness may feel like the best choice before it's time to push, as well. If you choose to hop in the shower, labor on the toilet, or if your clothes get soiled from bloody show or some other fluid, pragmatism may win out; being naked may just be easier for you to do the work at hand. Often people lose any sense of modesty they thought they had before labor, and just decide to be naked.
Most people start off wearing clothes, however. In early labor, you can wear just about anything. It's wise to wear stretchy clothes that allow you to squat, lunge, get on hands and knees, and get into any position you may want. When things start getting more intense, you may want to get into the tub or shower; if going naked at this point doesn't appeal to you, a bathing suit or sports bra works well.
If you find yourself using the toilet often (a great way to labor and a good sign you are well-hydrated), or if your bloody show is increasing (another sign of labor progress), you may opt to wear a skirt or swimsuit cover-up, like this:
This gives you freedom of movement, unrestricted access from the waist down, but covers your chest and provides some warmth. (Plus, it looks really cool).
When pushing, baby's arrival is eminent. You already know that you will be naked from the waist down. If you are planning to breastfeed, easy access to the breasts is essential at this time. You may find yourself comfortable with your breasts fully exposed at this point, or maybe you prefer a sports bra or pretty bathing suit top or bra, like this:
Even if you aren't planning to breastfeed, easy access to your chest ensures that you and baby get much-needed skin-on-skin time, which sparks a fresh wave of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin kept your labor going with contractions, and now, this so-called "love hormone" will help you bond to your new baby, and facilitate breastmilk production. You can always place a blanket over baby, to help keep him warm and to give yourself more privacy.
Place of Birth
If you are giving birth at home, surrounded by people with whom you are comfortable, you may not worry too much about being naked, or what to wear.
If you are in a hospital, where the staff will be virtual strangers, keeping covered as much as possible might make you feel more comfortable. Hospital nursing gowns are free, and readily accessible. You can wear two (one in the back and one in front) to offer maximum coverage. If one gets wet or stained, there are plenty of other gowns available to replace it. They leave much to be desired aesthetically, but function may trump style when you are actually working through labor.
With some advanced planning, you can order custom maternity gowns, from retailers such as: https://www.gownies.com and www.annieandisabel.com; there are also many versions sold on Etsy. The downside to these is that you may pay a high price for an item of clothing you may wear just once.
Losing or Damaging Your Outfit
Depending on the nature of your birth, your outfit of choice may suffer some casualties. A number of bodily fluids may stain or damage the fabric, or require you to take it off for the rest of your labor. Certain medical interventions, like IV's, epidurals, internal fetal monitors, catheters, etc. may necessitate the nursing staff to cut off your clothing.
Whether or not you are willing to lose your outfit may influence if or when you wear it. If you haven't spent much money on it, its loss may not matter to you. Or you may decide to save that expensive silk robe for after the baby is born.
How You Want to Feel During Labor
Clothes do impact the way we feel, even in labor. The scent and feel of your favorite t-shirt, the breeze of a satin bell-sleeved robe brushing against your skin, the dependable support of a sturdy bra, the strength you get from a favorite color-- whatever is pleasing to you at any point in time in labor, is valid and valuable.
Your environment, your support team, your mood, and even what you wear (or don't wear) matters, because what serves you, serves your labor. What impacts you, impacts your birth experience. You matter, and so what matters to you, matters, too.
Today I received my notification that I am a certified labor doula with CAPPA (Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association). This was never the plan.
I majored in Forest Science and minored in Philosophy in college. Strange combination, I know-- but each subject intrigued me. I followed my interests and figured I would find my way.
The way found me.
My first job out of college was working for a biotechnology start-up, planting mutated versions of a little flowering weed called Arabidopsis thaliana. Often I would sit alone at a sterile hood (laboratory work station), just me and little seedlings in Petri dishes. I missed people.
My husband's job necessitated a move, so I left the laboratory and tried my hand in marketing for a non-profit organization. The work required the creativity I was craving to utilize, but was limiting in growth. My next position found me working in product management for a large international automotive supplier. I could construct a spreadsheet with multiple embedded formulas like nobody's business, and I worked with a great team of people-- but it was hard for me to get really passionate about auto parts.
I was at this company when I became pregnant with my first child. One day a co-worker who had just had a baby asked if I was going to have a doula at my birth. I had never heard of a doula, but I was interested. My husband and I interviewed and hired her doula (also her best friend), and then hired her again for the birth of my daughter a few years later.
It was at my daughter's birth that I made a turn toward birth work. Without telling you too much of my story, I'll reveal one fact: the on-call doctor, who was the doctor I had at my first birth, whose bedside manner I didn't care for, whose practice I left when I became pregnant the second time, didn't make my daughter's birth. I didn't have a rapid labor. She was just inexplicably not there.
For over an hour, fully dilated, I was told by the nurses that she would be there in 15 minutes, and not to push. I lost track of how many times I heard "15 more minutes." I was fatigued, after over 24 hours without sleep. My legs were shaking and starting to cramp. The pressure in my pelvis was too great. I was ready to push out this baby and trying to mentally keep it together because I was told I couldn't push. For so, so, so long.
It was my doula, who had already brought comfort to my anxious husband with her presence, who had seamlessly integrated with him and my mom to support me, who had suggested everything I had needed, like getting in the tub and putting hot towels on my back and squeezing my hips and soft words-- she got me through that intense challenge of mind and spirit, as well. Without her, I could have suffered real emotional birth trauma. Instead, it was an overwhelmingly positive experience.
I knew I wanted serve others in the same way. So a few years after my daughter was born, I took her labor doula training through CAPPA. I took on my own clients, and in the background, worked toward my certification over the past two years.
There were many reasons not to complete my certification. My father got sick and died early last year. My kitchen flooded the year before that and we took on an unexpected and expensive remodel. We moved to a new state. It's not even a requirement to work as a doula. And more.
But it meant something to me. So like with my daughter's birth, I pushed through. I hope that my clients will see this certification as another sign of my dedication to this work and to their experience, that they will have someone there to help them push through as well.
Birth is a transformative experience. Your body is pushed beyond new, seemingly insurmountable limits. You become a mother. Whether it's for the first, second, or seventh time, you are meeting your baby face-to-face and that experience leaves you forever changed.
But with each birth, you also get the opportunity to meet yourself. Will you take it?
Many of us are taught from an early age to comply, to not get upset, to prioritize others' needs above our own, to be polite, etc. In certain contexts, these learned traits help us navigate society, keep the peace, and minimize discomfort and conflict in our relationships. Sometimes, we are held back by what we've learned. We lose track of our feelings and needs, we trivialize our desires.
Birth is not the time to be a good girl. It's not a time to be an abusive jerk, but it's okay to stop trying to please.
If you are having a home birth, do not worry about providing snacks for the birth team; we will take care of our own nourishment. Do not feel obligated to invite people who you do not want, or who will bring negative energy, into your birth space. Do not refrain from asking any question, or voicing any discomfort or concern, or repeating those questions or concerns, until you are satisfied with the response. If you want me to massage your neck and then a second later you want me to stop, tell me. Swat my hand away, if that's easier in the moment. I will still like you and will continue to care for you.
Allow yourself to feel. Sit in the discomfort and embrace it. Your partner and I will be there until it eases. Swear, and let yourself get creative; it may lighten the mood and lead to laughter. Scream. Grunt. Make any number of animal sounds. Fart, poop, vomit. Allow yourself to accept whatever may come.
Doulas often encourage clients to sink deeper into contractions, to let them wash over them like a wave, or similar language. It's the openness of mind (and mouth) that opens the body for baby. But no one can make you let go of the control that each of us holds tight, that protective blanket of thought on which we all rely. It's a choice to let go, and it's scary because you don't know what's on the other side. But that's where you find her.
She's you at your own birth, demanding warmth and nourishment at your own mother's breast. She's you as a child, unable to suppress the urge to stick your hands into the soft, supple mud. She's you as you fall asleep, unable to keep your own eyes open one more second, accepting the command of rest. She's you expressing your talent, proud and knowing of your greatness. She's you feeling joy, an electric excitement, like the girl in the rain. She's your purest self, unadulterated by obligations and expectations.
Bring her to your birth. Allow her in. Sit in the fear, and pain, and love, and power that she brings.
I've worked in the forest, in the lab, and in an office cubicle. My favorite and most passionate work has been alongside clients as they reach inside to find their innermost strength, and give birth to their babies. Each birth is an honor to witness.